Driving Jersey: Reverend James: Linden, NJ

Seems like these days there are as many tattoo shops (or “parlors” for those inclined toward the old vernacular) as there are banks or diners in Jersey.  Every town has at least one.  Seems like they started popping up all over the body of our great, old state at the same rate that they started appearing on all sorts of places on all sorts of people...on places and people you wouldn’t automatically assume they’d appear.  Tattoo is out of the shadowed alleys and dark parts of town and from under the collar and shirt sleeve.  In Jersey it’s in strip malls and on the small of the back of every other girl you see.  A recent study by the Harris Poll showed that “14% of ALL adult Americans have at least one tattoo.”  The other 86% want one, they just don’t know what to get.

We went to Linden on the recommendation of an artist who was teaching fine art technique to a tattoo dude who worked there.  We wanted to find out what modern ink was all about.  We were told Reverend James was the man to see and speak to about it.  To begin with Reverend James looks like what you might expect a tattoo artist to look like, but there is also some mercurial part to his character that satisfied our interest to know more from someone who lived it his way.  We asked James, why Reverend, he responded “because there are already too many “sailors,” a popular ink-name in the trade because of famed tattoo artist Sailor Jerry.  But while, he may not be your typical man-of-the-cloth, Reverend James does share some preacher properties, he does like to wax with a glory, glory in his tone and patois, whether you asked for it or not, and he navigates moment to moment with a spirit-sense about him.  He is zen in his deliberation and attitude.  Therefore, TATTOO GURU. 

On the way to Linden, Driving Jersey’s own sound master, PJ Goodwin decided he would get tattooed for our shoot.  The Reverend was agreeable.  We had no intention of making IT about a single tattoo.  We were going there to talk to the man.  If he happened to be working at the time, that would be a bonus.  An inked crew member wasn’t our goal, but just like most everything we do out on our drives, we ended up learning more and appreciating more by accepting the experiences our subjects yield.

After an hour and a half of talking about tattoo and THE tattoo that was about to happen, including developing a complex design that included a .WAV form of laughter emerging from an ocean wave, the human drama began.  The excited tone of the shop shifted seconds before the first lines would be etched, when Goodwin admitted reservations.  And while the rest of the crew and I looked on, another important, in fact, necessary, scene unfolded before our eyes and cameras, the development of the relationship between the  artist and the canvas.  Goodwin and the Reverend sat together, alone, and dialogued about apprehension and art.

And what we discovered is that tattoo, despite all the sound and fury in much of the imagery, is actually a delicate walk, an introspect into permanence and representation and ultimately, a very intimate brief encounter with someone who marks you for life. 

Oh yeah, Jersey tattoo, we got into that as well, but by the end of our time with the Reverend it mattered little what state we were in.  Tattoo is more a state of mind.

Enjoy TATTOO GURU and take some time to consider what is permanent in your life.

Music for TATTOO GURU was performed by Dan Sansig of The Following and produced by S. Amantus.